The Prague school or Prague linguistic circle[1] is a language and literature society.[2] It started in 1926 as a group of linguists, philologists and literary critics in Prague. Its proponents developed methods of structuralist literary analysis[3] and a theory of the standard language and of language cultivation from 1928 to 1939. The linguistic circle was founded in the Café Derby in Prague, which is also where meetings took place during its first years.[4]

The Prague School has had a significant continuing influence on linguistics and semiotics. After the Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948, the circle was disbanded in 1952, but the Prague School continued as a major force in linguistic functionalism (distinct from the Copenhagen school or English Firthian – later Hallidean – linguistics). The American scholar Dell Hymes cites his 1962 paper, "The Ethnography of Speaking," as the formal introduction of Prague functionalism to American linguistic anthropology. [5] The Prague structuralists also had a significant influence on structuralist film theory, especially through the introduction of the ostensive sign.[6]

Today, the Prague linguistic circle aims to contribute to the knowledge of language and related sign systems according to functionally structural principles. To this end, it organizes regular meetings with lectures and debates, publishes professional publications, and organizes international meetings.[7]


The Prague linguistic circle included the Russian émigrés Roman Jakobson, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, and Sergei Karcevskiy, as well as the famous Czech literary scholars René Wellek and Jan Mukařovský. The instigator of the circle, and its first president until his death in 1945, was the Czech linguist Vilém Mathesius.[8]

In 1929 the Circle promulgated its theses in a paper submitted to the First Congress of Slavists. "The programmatic 1929 Prague Theses, surely one of the most imposing linguistic edifices of the 20th century, incapsulated [sic] the functionalist credo."[9] In the late 20th century, English translations of the Circle's seminal works were published by the Czech linguist Josef Vachek in several collections.

Also in 1929, the group launched a journal, Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague. World War II brought an end to it. The Travaux was briefly resurrected in 1966–1971. The inaugural issue was devoted to the political science concept of center and periphery. It was resurrected yet again in 1995. The group's Czech language work is published in Slovo a slovesnost (Word and Literature).